Law School Case Brief
Giacchetto v. Patchogue-Medford Union Free Sch. Dist. - 293 F.R.D. 112 (E.D.N.Y. 2013)
Regarding the relevance of social networking postings in cases involving claims for emotional distress damages, a plaintiff's entire social networking account is not necessarily relevant simply because he or she is seeking emotional distress damages.
Plaintiff Theresa Giacchetto began working as an elementary education teacher for the Defendant Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District ("District") in 1996. In Dec. 2010, Giacchetto asserted that she was diagnosed with adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD") an that when she informed the District the diagnosis, another educator at the school repeatedly mocked Giacchetto within earshot of others. Giacchetto filed a complaint against the District with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("DHR") alleging disability discrimination. Thereafter, Giacchetto alleged that she was treated differently from other employees who did not have a disability and who did not file DHR complaints. Giacchetto then filed a lawsuit against the District in federal district court alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), N.Y. Executive Law §§ 290, et seq. Giacchetto sought compensatory, pension, medical benefits, emotional, physical, and punitive damages, lost pay, front pay, interest, injunctive relief, and any other damages permitted by law. The District filed a motion to compel Giacchetto to provide authorizations for the release of all records from her social networking accounts, claiming that information from her social networking accounts was relevant to her claims of physical and emotional damages.
Was the information from Giacchetto's social networking accounts relevant to her claims of physical and emotional damages?
Yes, in part.
The court granted in part and denied in part the District's motion to compel. The court observed that because social networking websites enabled users to craft a desired image to display to others, social scientists had posited that outside observers can misinterpret that impression. Based on this, the court concluded that Giacchetto's routine status updates and/or communications on social networking websites were not, as a general matter, relevant to her claim for emotional distress damages, nor were such communications likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence regarding the same. The court found, however, that certain limited social networking postings should be produced. First, Giacchetto was required to produce any specific references to the emotional distress she claimed she suffered or treatment she received in connection with the incidents underlying her amended complaint, such as, for example, references to a diagnosable condition or visits to medical professionals. Moreover, the court explained, in seeking emotional distress damages, Giacchetto opened the door to discovery into other potential sources/causes of that distress. Thus, any postings on social networking websites that referred to an alternative potential stressor must also be produced. However, the court held that unfettered access to her social networking history would not be permitted simply because she sought emotional distress damages.
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